A new trailer debuted during last night's Mad Men for The Fighter, the Boston boxing drama starring Mark Wahlberg as a fighter struggling to make a career comeback, Amy Adams as his girlfriend, and Christian Bale as his brother and trainer.
As HitFix noticed, this second trailer is a complete tonal shift from the clip that hit the Internet last month, which short of setting the footage to "Eye of the Tiger" made The Fighter out to be the next Rocky. Heavily focused on Wahlberg's character, his training for a comeback, and his relationship with Adams (the Adrian to his Rocky), the trailer inferred a straightforward, inspiring, beat-the-odds sports film. As movie blogger Adam Rosenberg pointed out, the film looked to be an uncharacteristically mainstream departure for director David O. Russell, whose with films like Three Kings, Flirting With Disaster, and I Heart Huckabees were "quirky movies that don't fit comfortably into any one genre."
There's been talk about awards attention for the film, for reasons that were not entirely obvious after the first trailer was released. After the preview that aired last night, it's clearer why. The focus turned from Wahlberg's training and romancing of Adams to the complicated relationship he has with his brother and mother, played by Melissa Leo. It's a much darker, almost ominous tone, and looks to be a far grittier family drama than the uplifting first trailer would have you believe.
According to HitFix's awards blogger Gregory Ellwood, the feedback from the few people who have seen The Fighter was "that it was a very good film that was much more art house or "prestige" than a commercial slam dunk." That "prestige" element could be precisely why Paramount Picture, the studio behind the film, chose to preview the darker trailer during Mad Men, which is widely understood to have a high-brow, sophisticated audience—an audience that wouldn't be turned off by a sports drama with grittier themes. Ellwood claims that Paramount only had plans to air the preview during the Mad Men finale, and presumably the more mainstream trailer will continue to run elsewhere.
It's not the only awards-bait flick coming out this year that is suffering from trailer bipolarism.
Those who showed up early for The Social Network were treated to the theatrical trailer for Love and Other Drugs, which stars Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal as lovers. With its upbeat music, litany of one-liners, and one teary-eyed "I love you" clip, the film appears to be standard romantic comedy fare.
Those who frequent industry websites probably have seen a different trailer for the film, one that reveals what the movie is really about. Hathaway's character suffers from Parkinson's disease, a difficulty that becomes the central issue of her relationship with Gyllenhaal's character.
Both of these films hide the darker elements of their plots from the trailers that are seen in the major markets. These "fakeout" trailers make the movies seem like they fit into a genre that is more mass appealing, even though it's not an entirely accurate reflection of what the film is actually about. The versions of a trailer featuring those themes are being targeted to very specific audiences, the ones who, arguably, would be more appreciative of the more "art house" storylines, as Ellwood wrote.
Perhaps the mainstreaming of these trailers are attempts by the studios to make a film that is considered awards bait something that the general public would be more interested in seeing. But really, does the seven extra seconds of the Love and Other Drugs trailer showing Hathaway's hand shaking as she struggle to open a pill bottle actually turn off those movie-goers? Subjectively, the paint-by-number Rocky imitation trailer for The Fighter seems like a far less interesting film than the preview that aired during Mad Men. The added family drama in that trailer adds a surprising, more interesting layer to the tired, predictable sports movie canon. It's the second trailer that had me looking up the film's release date and planning to buy a ticket, not the first.
Furthermore, if I went to see Love and Other Drugs expecting a lighthearted chick-flick, but getting a tragic tale about the plight of Parkinson's...I would be more than a tad incensed. (Flashback to the experience of watching The Break-Up, which looked like a riotous comedy romp based on the trailer, but ended up being an uncomfortable 90-minute look at a painful separation.) These are supposedly excellent films that are being called award-worthy; marketing teams should trust their movies and their audiences, and tell us what the films are really about.